SOUTHAMPTON has long been a vital seaport, with shipbuilding and repairing being an integral part of its rich history. SeeSouthampton tour guide Godfrey Collyer takes a look at how the city’s port developed specialist facilities to help cope with the maintenance of ships through the years – including some of the world’s most famous.

In 1620 the Mayflower and the Speedwell arrived in Southampton. The Speedwell was leaking and in need of repair so she was brought up onto the West Quay and careened to give access to the hull below the water line.

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In 1838 with the construction of the Eastern Docks the design included several dry docks which enabled repairs to be completed without the need for careening.

The Open or Tidal Dock, opened in 1842 and used today as Ocean Village Marina, had three dry docks sometimes called graving docks because of their similarity to a grave. The first of these was completed in 1846 and was 400 feet long, 21 feet deep and could accommodate the largest ships of the day.

A fourth dry dock was completed on the Itchen Quays in 1879 principally for overhauling the Union Steamship Company's vessels.

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The increasing size of ships and the volume of trade led to the construction of the Empress Dock in 1890 which included a larger dry dock. This was opened in August 1895 by the Prince of Wales and was named after him.

The Prince of Wales Dry Dock was almost twice as long as the first dry dock being 745 feet in length and was the largest dry dock in the world.

In 1893 the SS New York of the American Line arrived in Southampton she was the biggest ship of that time at 25,000 tons.

In 1907 the White Star line transferred from Liverpool and in May that year the SS Adriatic arrived in the port. She was now the largest ship in the world and was two and a half times the size of the SS New York.

The ever-increasing size of the liners required a sixth dry dock to be constructed. This was located near the Town Quay and alongside it on the east side the White Star Dock, known today as the Ocean Dock, was constructed.

The new dry dock was opened on October 21, 1905, the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar, after which it was named and was now the largest dry dock in the world. Unfortunately, it was not future proof and consideration was given to building a new dry dock at Woolston. Instead the Trafalgar Dry Dock was widened in 1913 and lengthened to 897 feet in 1922.

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In 1919 the Cunard line transferred to Southampton and a year later the Canadian Pacific line followed.

The size of ships and their numbers continued to grow and in October 1922 an order was placed with Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd of Newcastle-upon-Tyne for a floating dry dock being 960 feet long, 170 feet wide at a cost of £380,000.

This was completed and delivered in 1924 and used to service the large Cunard liners. It remained in use until 1940 when it was moved to Portsmouth.

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In the meantime, the construction of a seventh permanent dry dock was planned.

In 1923 Parliament approved a £10,000,000 scheme to extend the docks to the west of the Town with a 7,000-foot-long deep-water quay. This new dock involved reclaiming 400 acres of the West Bay. Included was a new 135-foot-wide, 1,200-foot-long dry dock whose construction was started in June 1931.

2,000,000 tons of earth were removed and 750,000 tons of concrete used.

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It was opened by King George V on July 26, 1933 and was named after him. It was again the largest dry dock in the world. It was completed and became operational the following year with the White Star Line's Majestic the first to enter the dry dock.

One perk enjoyed by the workers in a dry dock was that when the water was pumped out many fish were left floundering on the dock bottom. These provided many a dock worker's family with a tasty supper.

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